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More on Tetanus

(Lockjaw & Tetanus Vaccination) (cont.)

How does the tetanus toxin cause damage to the body?

The tetanus toxin affects the site of interaction between the nerve and the muscle that it stimulates. This region is called the neuromuscular junction. The tetanus toxin amplifies the chemical signal from the nerve to the muscle, which causes the muscles to tighten up in a continuous ("tetanic" or "tonic") contraction or spasm. This results in either localized or generalized muscle spasms. Tetanus toxin can affect neonates to cause muscle spasms, inability to nurse, and seizures. This typically occurs within the first two weeks after birth and can be associated with poor sanitation methods in caring for the umbilical cord stump of the neonate. Of note, because of tetanus vaccination programs, there have only be a few cases of neonatal tetanus reported in the U.S. since 1990, and in each of these cases, the mothers were incompletely immunized. Worldwide, however, neonatal tetanus is still, unfortunately, common.